The Central American Country of Honduras is known as one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the Western Hemisphere; and in 2011, was considered the country with the highest rate for violent deaths in the world. Thankfully, there has been a turn around during 2012. Foreign aid began to return (since the 2009 coup of then president Mel Zelaya) to the country once US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, eased sanctions by the Millennium fund that had pretty much put all infrastructure projects on hold.
USAID recently completed the MIRA project, which has been ongoing for the past few years, to improve the availability of potable water to many of the poorest areas of the country. This very important project resulted in a turn around for tourism, as many of the communities where USAID personnel were assigned, gained new skills and learned to “dream” from those many dedicated workers and volunteers.
Although the Peace Corps pulled out of Honduras at the end of 2011 due to safety concerns (when Honduras topped the world wide list of murder rates), the Peace Corps has had more than 200 volunteers in the country for decades. Not to take anything away from the many Peace Corps staffs of the past (as they were faced with a vast array of infrastructure and technology barriers), the latest Peace Corps team which was pulled out, was making great strides thanks to the easier access to remote areas, as well as significant influx of technology throughout the country over the past five years. Key to this are new and better roads and cellular communications. In fact, over 9 million cell phones are active in Honduras today, which exceeds the seven plus million population.
Hondurans in very remote areas are now seeing tourists for the first time ever. Travel throughout the country is no longer a “huge” endeavor. You can actually plan a trip, and for the most part, have things go according to plan these days. The air travel industry in Honduras has grown tremendously, as new charter flights from Italy, Canada, the USA, and Spain have been conducting regularly scheduled flights (in particular to Roatan, one of the top destinations in Honduras). Private charter flights have grown in demand, and various Expats have flown their own planes in and even relocated here in order to partake in the boom of private air travel which is encouraged by many resorts and tour operators.
As usual, Scuba Diving is a major attraction, as the pristine reefs off the coast of the Bay Islands are considered by most, some of the best in the world. Many professional divers come annually, from all parts of the world, to get a chance to not just see a whale shark, but also experience touching and diving alongside one of them off the coasts of Utila and Roatan.
Although not out of the woods yet, there are signs of hope for Hondurans as the political situation in the country is stabilized, and new elections approach in 2013. The current government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa has stuck to the “Tegucigalpa Accord” demanded by the OAS (Organization of American States) as a requirement following the 2009 coup. With the unification government created in 2010, many political groups, as well as the “resistance” that plagued the country with protests and unrest, have calmed down, and for the most part, people have returned to normal daily lives. From those groups there are now new political parties that will be participating in the November 2012 Primary elections in hopes of changing the long time two party rule that the National and Liberal parties have enjoyed for decades.
The UNAH (National Autonomous University of Honduras) has been very outspoken as of late, on just about any subject that comes up; thus keeping the young population well informed. Considering that more than 50% of the population of Honduras is under the age of 18, there are even movements to change the legal voting age to 16. These young Hondurans, thanks to the UNAH, have realized that they have a voice, and the majority of the guidance they take to heart, comes from the direction that the UNAH takes on current events.
The banking system in Honduras has improved tremendously in just the past 3 years. Online access to all Honduras banks is available from just about anywhere now that cellular communications provide Internet access to never before dreamed of locations. This is good news for the many notebook and tablet computer touting travelers these days. The Honduras banks now offer ACH transfers between national banks, and fees for ATM and wire transfer transactions have all been reduced.
All in all, if you have been to Honduras in the past and considered travel a hassle, give it another try; things are much easier and a much faster pace than the old Mañana country you may have encountered. Mind you, all the “good” parts of being in “Tomorrow” territory still exist; such as mandatory lunch and nap (siesta) time daily 🙂 Sundays are still “go to the closest waterway and have a barbecue with friends and family”.
Here are a few Honduras Travel Tips to be aware of:
Travelers to Honduras must have a passport that is valid for at least six months from date of entry. While US citizens are not required to apply for a visa, they do need to supply proof of continued travel plans out of Honduras borders (such as a return ticket). Tourists receive a 90-day tourist pass upon entry to the country. This needs to be kept and shown upon exit from the country, as well as when requested by any law enforcement official as proof of legal status within the country (losing this document can result in a hefty fine; so if you do lose it, go to the nearest immigration office to sort it out and get another for a “negotiated” fee, before you attempt to exit the country). The 90-day visa can be extended once, for another 90-day period, by visiting an immigration office and asking for a visa extension. An extension costs about $20 US Dollars, and immigration offices can be found in most cities and towns throughout. It is mandatory to carry a photocopy of your passport or legal status identification at all times while in Honduras.
Honduras has a tropical climate, with a wet season that runs from May through November in the interior of the country, and from September to January along the north coast and the Bay Islands. The temperature is fairly constant throughout the year, within a range from the mid-70s to the mid-90s. Climate in the mountainous interior areas is cooler and averages in the 60s. Flooding and mudslides are common during the rainy season, and hamper travel on trails and roads, as well as highways and bridges. The hurricane season runs from August to November. Travelers need to take this into account when planning their visit to Honduras. The best times to visit are February and March, when the dry weather makes for easy travel. This period is also the best time of the year for whale shark spotting along the Caribbean coastal areas. The earlier you make your travel plans and book advance reservations, the better deals you can get, especially if you put down deposits, as most business are strapped for cash during the off season.
Honduras is a land of ecological diversity. Most of the countryside is mountainous with coastal plains and beautiful white sandy beaches. The Caribbean Sea comprises the northern border of the country and the Pacific Ocean serves as the southern border. Guatemala lies to the west and Nicaragua to the east.
Honduras has many things to do that cover a wide range of tastes, from ecotourism to exploring ancient ruins to just relaxing on a beautiful beach while enjoying a tropical cocktail. Honduras has 20 national parks, several biosphere reserves, and nearly 100 protected ecological areas. Tourism growth has been rapidly expanding, and covers cruises, luxury hotels, ecolodges, as well as the development of new beach resorts by major international chains.
The Bay Islands
The Bay Islands of Roatan, Utila and Guanaja, are home to the world’s second largest coral reef, and as such, the islands are known for their abundant diving facilities as well as pristine snorkeling conditions, leading to increased investment opportunities. Each of these islands has a different style of life, and facilities are available for a range of travelers, from backpackers to the luxury-minded. The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is located throughout the “La Moskitia” area, which has a variety of plant and animal life, including howler monkeys.
For those interested in city life, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba offer traditional market places as well as international bars and night clubs that are fully stocked, unlike the old days of just whiskey and rum. Restaurants of all kinds are available, even in many outlying areas, and fast food chains have taken over the younger population as they become social gathering places with free WIFI, accompanied by the daily dollar menu options for which they are famous for in the USA. This has resulted in their presence in every major mall, and strip malls, which are now in just about every large town as well as city. Their discounted prices have allowed the residents, as well as budget backpackers of all ages and walks of life, to have other meal options than the typical Honduras foods of beans, rice, and tortillas.
Copan has been gearing up to accommodate travelers from all over the world for the “end of the world” celebrations on December 21, 2012. Copan Ruins is one of the ancient Mayan cities that features a complex cultural center. Copan has over 4,000 structures, including the Acropolis, with tunnels open to the public, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, and the Great Plaza. Copan dates back to the seventh century and has often been compared to ancient Athens in terms of being a cradle of civilization in the Western Hemisphere. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1980.
Safety Advice and Warnings
Honduras is among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with over half of the population living at the poverty level. This poverty has contributed to petty theft as well as organized crime groups being widespread throughout the country. This includes visitors and residents, kidnappings, rapes, and murder. The U.S. Department of State advises citizens to exercise caution at all times, travel in groups, and avoid picking up strangers in nightclubs. Americans are advised to “use the same common sense while traveling in Honduras that you would in any high crime area in the United States.”
The Honduras Exchange rate to the US Dollar as of September 2012, was about 19.50 lempiras to one U.S. Dollar. Honduras money comes in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 paper bills. Coins, although used in grocery stores and fast food restaurants in the larger cities, are rarely used to pay for things, and due to their almost non-existent value, are mostly handed over to kids for candy and such. Money can be exchanged at banks and hotels, normally at the going daily exchange rate. Unofficial black market money changers are found around the country at every airport, border crossing, outside most large hotels and city parks. Unless you really need cash right away, it is advisable to refrain from their services, as their fees are normally not competitive, and the risk of prying eyes can identify you as a potential theft target.
ATMs (automated teller machines) are compatible with Cirrus and PLUS networks. Visa, MasterCard, American Express and JCB cards are all accepted at most ATMS. ATMs and can be found around the country in banks, grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies as well as malls and some ferry docks. Traveler’s checks are accepted, although they are difficult to get cashed or accepted in most places other than large hotels and resorts or banks. A 3% fee is often charged for their use. Major credit cards are generally accepted in most metropolitan areas for just about anything, as well as almost every gas station and fast food restaurant around the country.
Now that summer is over and the kids are going back to school in the USA, it’s time to start planning you next vacation. Make Honduras your top destination! Enjoy your travel in Honduras. Stay tuned to the Honduran going ons with our Honduras Face Book page, and as you travel to Honduras make sure you keep up with the daily Honduras News in English.